NEW YORK — The photos you share online speak volumes. They can serve as a form of self-expression or a record of travel. But they might convey more than you realize: The photos you share may hold clues to your mental health, research suggests.
From the colors and faces in their photos to the enhancements they make before posting them, Instagram users with a history of depression seem to present the world differently, according to the study, published in EPJ Data Science.
“People in our sample who were depressed tended to post photos that, on a pixel-by-pixel basis, were bluer, darker, and grayer on average than healthy people,” said Andrew Reece, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University and coauthor of the study with Christopher Danforth, a professor at the University of Vermont.
They identified participants as “depressed” or “healthy” based on whether they had a diagnosis of depression in the past. They used machine-learning tools to find patterns in photos. They found that depressed participants used fewer filters that let users alter a photo’s brightness and coloring. When these users did add a filter, they tended to choose “Inkwell,” making it black-and-white. The healthier users tended to prefer “Valencia,” which lightens a photo’s tint.
Reece and Danforth said the results suggest a machine-learning model could prove useful in conducting mental health screenings.